My take on Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2015 Labour Conference

With all the “hope and change” arising from dear beard-man (oops!) I mean Jeremy’s Corbyn’s leadership, I thought I’ll do quick critical review of Maria Eaagle’s speech on defence to the 2015 Labour Party Conference. My comments are in brackets and bold.

Conference,

Politics is changing. Since we lost the General Election, we have increased our membership by 164,000. (Hopefully many are related to the British Armed Forces or Defence. Maybe not.)

Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is inspiring a new generation of members of our Party – people who had not thought politics was for them – but who now want to help us to change our society for the better.

I am honoured to have been asked by Jeremy to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and I was proud to accept the job because the defence of our Country and its people is the first duty of any Government. (Sure you are, given your “experience” in the subject matter.)

And it must be taken equally seriously by any Party that seeks to govern.

I want to take this – my first opportunity – to thank and congratulate our magnificent British servicemen and women for the work that they do.

All around the world. Keeping us safe. Putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

They do this despite the redundancies, the real terms cut to pay, pensions and allowances imposed on them by the Tories since 2010.

They are truly amongst our very finest and most dedicated public servants. (Blah, Blah, Blah, same old lines for years.)

And this Party will always acknowledge that and seek to look after them. After all, most recruits to the armed forces come from our Labour heartlands.(Really? So what did your party do to them from 2003 to 2010?)

I will use my new role as Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces, to help to strengthen and deepen the understanding between the Labour Party and our forces community. (As if your predecessors didn’t or failed to do.)

Just a day or two after my appointment, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 1000 servicemen and women who served in Sierra Leone tackling the Ebola epidemic.

At no small risk to themselves, they helped to defeat that scourge – a fantastic humanitarian achievement.

They also left behind six treatment centres and 4,000 trained local staff. (Actually, it is a combined effort of NHS, DFID and NGOs. Stop saying you did something by clapping for them.)

To help enable that nation to tackle and prevent any further outbreaks of contagious disease.

And the work that they did in West Africa helped keep us safe here at home also by ensuring the epidemic never reached our shores.

They have done a brilliant job.

I would also like to congratulate and thank all those service personnel on HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.

To date, they have saved 5,577 desperate people fleeing persecution and war who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. (Under David Cameron’s/Michael Fallon’s orders, not yours.)

The Royal Navy continues to contribute, with our EU partners to this vital work and we support it fully.

Conference,

Since we last met, our combat troops have left Afghanistan.

454 of them have lost their lives since 2001.

We acknowledge their sacrifice.

The security they have helped to provide has brought social progress to that country.

There are now six million children safely able to attend school in Afghanistan, two million of them girls. They are the future of their country and the more of them who are in education, the better. (As with Operation Gritrock, this was not performed by the British Armed Forces alone.)

Conference,

Our Nation’s defence has never been more important than it is now in an increasingly interconnected, unpredictable and dangerous world.
Where threats, new and re-emerging, come at us thick and fast. (Is that why your leader campaigned to stop wars and get out of NATO?)

Five years ago who would have anticipated the barbarism of ISIL/Daesh? Or the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia? (Certainly not the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn.)

Certainly the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review did not.
It was a rushed, short sighted, Tory, Treasury-led cuts exercise giving us, amongst other things, a plan for aircraft carriers with no aircraft. (I wonder again, would Labour government have performed a better review???)

Our Country and our armed forces cannot afford a similarly poor effort from the Government in 2015.

Anticipating future threats is a difficult job though Conference. (Duh, so why aren’t you giving some ideas instead of swiping at the Tories?)
Who would have anticipated the millions of people fleeing conflict, drought and oppression in the Middle East – reminiscent of scenes we thought belonged to the history books? (Not you, not Jeremy Corbyn.)

It is the job of Government and those who aspire to govern, to ensure that Britain is ready and able to deal with any threat that arises and to be a force for good in the world.

And this fits in with our values as a Party. We believe in International cooperation, social justice and providing humanitarian assistance. (So why the campaign to aggressively remove the nuclear deterrent without spending on conventional weapons, why the hatred of the British Armed Forces, why the hatred of NATO?)

Britain is an outgoing nation fully engaged in the World.

We remain the only country to be a member of NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. (Great, you dear leader DID NOT like them at all!!!)

We have a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to use our position in the world to help solve problems, not turn our backs on them. (But, I read your fellow frontbencher Diane Abott doesn’t want intervention in Syria!)

We should not spurn that opportunity. We should not shirk that responsibility.

And we must ensure our people are safe here at home.
Our security services have warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades – with six attempts foiled in the past 12 months

The collapse in stability and governance in the Middle East and North Africa has left a vacuum for extremists who seek to attack us at home and abroad.(But your party wants to let “refugees” in.)

The ongoing civil war and chaos in Syria has created space for ISIL/Daesh to unleash horrific atrocities on innocent people.

Britain cannot solve these problems alone. But Britain must not turn its back on the world. (So why did Jeremy Corbyn call to withdraw from NATO?)

This is the context for our deliberations about Britain’s role in the world and the defence capabilities we need, in conjunction with our allies and partners in playing that role.

For decades our policy has been that the UK should have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging threats.

And it has been our position for decades too that Britain needs a credible independent nuclear deterrent while taking a lead internationally to push for a world without nuclear weapons. Labour in Government reduced the numbers of nuclear warheads and gave up our free fall nuclear bomb option – as part of multilateral disarmament efforts. (As Iceman said: Bullshit. Michael Foot didn’t. Jeremy Corbyn then and now did not.)

I know that some people have always disagreed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent. (Right, many in your front bench.)

But we all agree that more must be done to rid the world of nuclear weapons. (Yes, how?)

I recognise and respect the different views in our party on the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Jeremy knew that I disagreed with him about this when he appointed me. And he still asked me to do the job. (Wonderful! Prepare to be kicked out of the role soon.)

At the last election, we were committed to having a much more transparent and public facing debate about our place in the world and how best we should fulfil it. (Really? So whose manifesto are you following? Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn?)

Jeremy Corbyn has asked me to facilitate such a debate. (Really?!)

And I will do that. (With Jeremy pulling string no doubt.)

In sharp contrast to the Government’s SDSR consultation, where responses were limited to 300 words, it will be a debate that all of our members will be able to take part in. (Madame, this has been removed. And again, so far, you HAVE NOT provided any counter ideas.)

It will involve our trades union affiliates as well, some of whom represent:

The 40,000 people who work in the defence industries in Scotland,

The 7,500 who work in our submarine manufacturing industry

The 850 companies in the supply chain for the planned Vanguard successor submarines – all offering highly skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

For they have a legitimate interest in our deliberations also.
And it will be a debate that must also involve the British people – for these issues are amongst the most important that any politician ever has to consider. (Ahem!!! The government is doing just that. You’re quite late in the race!)

There is an appetite out there, in our Party and beyond, for real issues of substance to be discussed openly in politics, rather than be decided just by Ministers in Government, behind closed doors or politicians in Parliament, subject to a Party whip.

We’re seeing it surface in other political parties as well as our own.
Our debate is starting at this Conference.

It is right that Britain’s place in the world should be at the centre of these deliberations.

And Conference, I will make sure that it is. (Sure. So far you have said NOTHING noteworthy or of substance. A speech that won’t pass as an academic essay.)

***
PS: I’m too critical but this is what the people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn get.

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The Other Merlin: Merlin HC3/4 numbers

Most people have fallen in love with long serving UK military aircraft like the Harrier, the Spitfire and perhaps the Sea King Helicopter. The Sea King Mk4 (the troop carrying version) will soon leaving active service and will be replaced by the Merlin HC.3/HC.4.

Under the Future Force 2020 (not really SDSR 2010), 25 RAF Merlin HC.3s would be modified and transferred to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Army (also see this). Or more specifically, the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) of, or rather for the Royal Marines. The plan has sort of proceeded smoother than most other post SDSR 2010 projects, with 846 NAS being the first squadron to gain these aircraft and then next, 845 NAS. In fact, 846 NAS just returned to RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) with six/6 of these new helicopters. I believe, as the Defense Industry Daily article says, that there were to be at least seven/7, so maybe one more will join it (more on this below). At around the same time, the UK MOD announced a sustainment contract for both Merlin Helicopters. Some may say this is typical Conservative/Tory PR for their General Election 2015/GE2015 campaign, but you still do need investment to create and sustain helicopters.

The whole new Royal Navy/FAA Merlin Fleet will specifically consist of

…845 NAS and 846 NAS each operating 10 Merlin HC.4s, with five aircraft in the maintenance fleet. Each squadron will operate three flights. 845 NAS will have three deployable, go-anywhere flights, with each flight deploying with four Merlins. 846 NAS will have the Operational Conversion Flight, Maritime Counter Terrorist Flight, and a deployable flight to bolster 845 NAS if required.

Now that immediately seems strange. 10 aircraft per each active medium-lift squadron, but you want 4 x Merlins per flight? That would mean 12 x Merlins per Squadron. I guess the extra 2-4 will be drawn from the five/5 helicopters in maintenance? Or would this four/4 per flight configuration only occur during active operations/wartime? Pro-military people would of course still argue this 20 + 5 configuration is too small. I say it’s not bad consideration the fleet size is smaller than it’s counterpart, where 30 HM2 or Mk2 have been ordered and possibly eight more may be converted. Possibly.

Now, let’s go even deeper into the helicopter itself. As said above, it is replacing the veteran Sea King helicopter Mk4. The Sea King supposedly is able to carry 28 troops while these Merlins will only carry carry 24 equipped troops. (I’m not so sure the Sea King’s were able to carry that many soldiers. The Agusta-Westland site says the Merlin can carry up to 38 troops but that’s only possibly without gear). There’s a good description on the upgrades of the Merlin HC.3/HC./3A to the Merlin HC.4 in this Naval Technology article. It is pretty well-written so I shan’t summarise it here.

Overall, the Merlin HC.4 plan seems pretty alright, except how the FAA will detail the number of aircraft per flight. The maximum of twelve/12 Merlins for 845 NAS (as you see 846 NAS ultimately is for training and counter-terrorism, with only one flight for troop transport), means the CHF alone can only life a small almost company-sized force from ship to shore or from land to land. This is the stark reality of Future Force 2020.

This post will be updated later.